Running backs off to good start

It's hard to grade running backs in shorts and helmets, but assistant coach Joel Thomas likes the start to fall practices. Freshman Alex Collins draws praise.

Alex Collins "flashed" for his new coach through two days of Arkansas fall camp. That was the verdict on the true freshman running back from assistant coach Joel Thomas on Tuesday evening.

"It's early," Thomas said. "But I can tell you he's good."

Then, Thomas chuckled like he knew he had understated the back's ability.

"Alex has looked very good, like you would expect," Thomas said. "He was one of the top running backs in the country.

"He's all in. I love his demeanor. We are just getting started and we haven't put on pads yet. You'll know more then. But he's flashed like you expected he would."

What word would Thomas use to describe the young running back?

"I'd say fluid," Thomas said. "He glides. I think he's a patient runner. All in all, he's done very well. He has flashed, but real football starts tomorrow.

"There has been no adversity yet. We've put him in situations that you'd expect him to do well. Now, as we move forward, we are going to set him up for some adversity and see how he handles that.

"As a coach, that's my job to test him in difficult situations. And you can do that when you add pads."

The running backs flashed as a group, too. Thomas was pleased with the returnees. He said it wasn't a surprise that Kiero Small led the way. But he had praise for Jonathan Williams, Kody Walker and Patrick Arinze. Those were the top players in the depth chart in the spring.

Small will probably get the ball more in the physical running style emphasized by head coach Bret Bielema.

"Obviously, he's played a lot of football here," Thomas said. "He's capable of carrying the ball. He's got tree trunks for legs and a low center of gravity. He's going to bring a physical style when we run downhill."

Arinze has been interesting in fall camp. He's much lighter than last winter and spring when he was in the 270 range at some points. He was listed at 254 after spring.

"I think he's 245 now, much different," Thomas said. "I'll know more after tomorrow. But I think he's deceptive. I think we'll know more after the pads are on and we see what happens when people square up on him."

That's the key with all the running backs.

"I think what you have to learn about young backs, like Alex, is if he will drop his pads," Thomas said. "That's what backs like Patrick have to do, too.

"At this level, if they square you up, it's tough if you don't have the pads drop. I think Alex will drop his pads and learn when he gets that square hit. If not, I'll have to correct him and teach him. I think we can do that with him. I think he'll drop his pads the next time after he sees what it's like at this level.

"So far, all of them have responded to the challenge. We've had a very good first two days. Now we find out what it's like when we start playing big boy football tomorrow with pads."

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